'You need a good cry sometimes, and the film is a good cry' - Amy Poehler on Pixar's feel-good tearjerker Inside Out
Published 21/07/2015 | 14:56
As permanently perky Leslie Knope in US show Parks And Recreation, Amy Poehler was a natural choice to play joy personified in Disney's Inside Out. But, the star tells Jeananne Craig, real life isn't always so cheery
When you meet Amy Poehler, it's easy to see why she was chosen to play the embodiment of Joy in critically acclaimed new film, Inside Out.
The 5ft 2in actress displays no signs of jet lag as she bounces into the room with a warm smile, dropping wisecracks and wearing a T-shirt in homage to Brit rockers The Who ("When in Rome...").
Inside Out is the latest high-concept animation from Disney Pixar.
It received a standing ovation at this year's Cannes film festival and takes place inside the head of a 11-year-old girl called Riley, with her five core emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust, each personified as characters working in the 'control centre'.
"There are a lot of stories right now about superheroes and villains and bad guys, and what Pixar did was take all that and bring it inside a young girl's head," says Poehler.
"I loved the setting and the time in Riley's life. I knew the people they were casting and thought: 'This is gonna be funny and I'm going to be paid to be in a good mood!'"
When we first meet Joy, she has about "33 beautiful seconds of being the only one there", before we're introduced to Sadness and co.
Joy's mission is to keep Riley's spirits up as the youngster relocates to a new city with her family, and ensure that her memories remain happy, but her efforts are thwarted by this motley crew. Joy and Sadness end up being swept into the far reaches of Riley's mind, leaving Fear, Anger and Disgust at the helm.
Poehler - whose blonde locks are now a warm auburn - has form in playing it perky as the ultra-cheerful bureaucrat Leslie Knope in Parks And Recreation, for which she recently received her sixth Primetime Emmy nomination.
But life hasn't always been so joyful for the 43-year-old, who split with actor husband Will Arnett - the father of her two young sons - in 2012.
"Sadness can be your friend, it can help you," the actress and comedian points out. "Happy is a really vague term; happiness and the pursuit of it. The film reminds us that it's OK to not be happy all the time, no one is, and in fact, the pursuit of happiness all the time often gets in the way of change and growth."
Poehler adds: "There's a great scene in the film where Joy has to relent and let Sadness take over. It's this message of, you have to feel your feeling to get to the next thing. You need a good cry sometimes, and the film is a good cry."
Could she have played any of the other emotions? "I think I could do Anger," she deadpans. "I think I could rustle that up if I needed to."
The film, from the makers of 2009 animation Up, brought back memories of Poehler's own childhood and adolescence.
"As a woman, you think about this magic hour when you were 11, where puberty hasn't ruined everything yet and you really do have the whole world in front of you, hopefully," says the star, who also runs a website, Smart Girls, encouraging young people to celebrate intelligence and imagination above 'fitting in'.
"It can be an awesome time where you're filled with possibility and anticipation, but it can be a very confusing time, where all your emotions are jockeying to be front and centre."
Aged six and four, Poehler's sons are too young to discuss their emotions in much depth, but the actress has found Inside Out helpful in getting them to open up.
"The film is filled with action and rough and tumble, sucking up tubes and things falling down and breaking, and Anger blowing his top, so they love all that stuff. But it's also a nice tool to talk to them about feelings.
"You can't ask a child 'How are you feeling, really?' They don't say, 'Well I'm feeling sad...' It doesn't work that way - God bless you if you have that child. It's been a way of discussing emotions and feelings with them in a way they like, that's fun and feels safe."
Born in Massachusetts to teacher parents, Poehler got into improv comedy as a university student and performed with troupes in Chicago (where she met friend and co-star Tina Fey - more on that later) before landing a job on sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live in 2001.
Of her comedy influences, she says: "Growing up in the States in the Nineties, we could only pass British comedy around like it was a secret. We had VHS tapes of The Day Today and Steve Coogan and you would tell someone: 'Have you seen Brass Eye?' There was this mystery about British comedy, because we couldn't get it."
With the hugely popular Parks And Recreation coming to an end this year, Poehler has time to pursue other projects - including upcoming comedy film, Sisters, with Fey, about two siblings throwing one last final hurrah house party before their parents sell their family home.
"We're gonna be hitting the road for that in a few months," she says.
It will be difficult to top the positive response to Inside Out, however.
"Cannes is ruined for me!" Poehler says with a laugh. "It was amazing. There's nowhere to go but down after that."
Inside Out is in cinemas on Friday, July 24